Elder statesman and former Secretary-General of apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr Joe Nworgu was a representative on the national confab organised in 2014 by the President Goodluck Jonathan’s government.
In this interview with Sunday Sun he spoke on COVID-19, its controversies, consequences, some of the issues bedeviling the country, the agony of Ndigbo and the dangers ahead. Excerpts:
What is your reflection on the COVID-19 pandemic so far?
There are too many theories, some not relevant to talk about, underlying issues being bandied around. But the pandemic is a fact.
Is it theories of facts or deception?
Everything is combined and the information is there.
So, how do you see the lockdown?
It is a good way of just slowing it down, that’s all, but the people might revolt because there is poverty in the land before this lockdown. Of course, you know that people were already angry with the government; there is hunger in the land even before now so the lockdown will only worsen their situation.
Do you think the government was swift in its handling of the COVID-19 issue because some critics argue that some countries moved fast to close their borders with other measures?
It depends on the discipline of the people and their leaders. You don’t impose discipline one day. Secondly, it depends on the awareness level of the people. Most Nigerians are totally unaware of what we are talking about, they are still doubting the existence of Coronavirus.
Some commentators say that COVID-19 exposed a lot of inadequacies of different sectors like the health sector…?
(Cuts in) It didn’t expose anything new, the situation has long been known. People have been complaining and talking about the ugly situation before now, even from the First Republic, the inadequacies, poor leadership etc, people have been hammering on it all through, so it didn’t expose anything thing new, nothing was exposed, our level had always been known. There has been poor leadership all through, kleptomania, people in government are there writing off public funds. It is not directed at this particular government, but all the time we have been confronted with poor leadership. Remember that the boys of 1966 claimed that they struck because they wanted to remove the 10 percenters, so it has been there all through, nothing new is revealed, it has been there, open, for everybody to see before now.
I don’t know whether you are satisfied with the government palliative measures so far?
As you know, I am in Enugu as I speak to you. I heard that they visited few areas in Anambra and Imo, I don’t know the extent, but few do not constitute the state. If you go to one ward in Imo or one ward in Anambra State then you say you visited Anambra or Imo states, it doesn’t translate to the state, it does not even translate to palliative. No amount of palliative can help anybody in this our condition right now. There is no way of determining it because it is a very big problem. The impact of urbanism and its pool on the rural area has converted very many people to be totally dependent on the urban centre and its job system. You stop them, they can’t do rural jobs. They cannot tap palm wine for instance? No yam barns, nothing, so how do you push people back after 60 years into sedentary village life? It is not possible. Once anybody is armed with a school certificate these days he can never go back to the village anymore.
But why this attitude?
How will you stay in the village when you have classmates who are boosting their lives in the town with electricity, television and other goodies? They have been exposed to the good things of life so now they are all urban-centered. And the way the urbanize carry on they laugh at anybody that is rural-based. If you have suffered such discrimination at school cert. level, you can’t go back to the village. What is there for somebody with a certificate in the village to do? Your school certificate does not prepare you for a farm settlement. It is for urban jobs and from there you will be eyeing tertiary institutions.
Are you really worried about how difficult things will be after the COVID-19 plague is over?
I am not going to speculate. There has been long-standing combustible material; nobody can predict the shape it will take. All I know is that the elite are endangered.
You talked about poor leadership. How do we change this perceived culture of poor leadership recruitment in the country?
Our leadership structure is tied to ethnic maneuvering, so those who own Almajiris can always employ them to negative nationalism. The other groups in their local places manifest the same theories and attributes. You mount a leader at the state level he becomes sectional, you mount a leader at the local government level, he becomes sectional, national level the same, blatant and highly sectional.
But how do we change this or you think the problem is in the type of government that we run?
Confederation, confederation is what Ojukwu stood on in Aburi, they thwarted it, now they have given us a unitary government all these years and it’s a winner takes it all. You can see it is manifesting fully especially in this regime and no apologies. They do anything they want to do because they have ceased all facets of governance and also the arsenal for violence. So, what do you do?
Some politicians accused the Igbo of not building the right type of bridges or playing the right type of politics expected from them if they still have the intention of seceding with its Biafra demand and at the same time expecting to get the presidency in 2023?
That is arrant rubbish. This is a democracy and you don’t have to kowtow along anybody’s line of thought, we take our positions based on our core value systems. Every group has their core value system, they have their attributes and manner. People who grew up obeying a strict line cannot look at republicans and say: you are not playing right politics. We have always played right politics, but people are frightened of the Igbo man and it easily translates into hate.
When you say others are frightened is it as a result of any negative nature of the Igbo or what?
No, it is far from being negative. The Igbo man is very energetic, the Igbo is very resourceful, very tenacious, they are people that like competition, they thrive in competition. Layback people will not find all these things collectible, they abhor it, that is the issue.
But what if after the 2023 presidential election the Igbo did not get the presidency?
(Cuts in) Of course, Nigeria will not fall as some haters of Ndigbo are already saying that Nigeria will not fall. How will it fall? But let’s see how things will go. I hear some people saying that Igbo elders are not controlling Nnamdi Kanu and his utterances and because of that they will not support in their bid for the presidency in 2023. That to me is arrant nonsense. I ask, is Nnamdi Kanu in Nigeria? who is he terrorizing? Did they find him in the North? Did they find him in Lagos? He is exercising his fundamental human rights. Did he tell them he is vying for the president of Nigeria? So, what is he terrorizing them with? Does he have an army? Of course, no. The government proscribed an organisation that is non-violent, you turn round again to start accusing him, it’s unfair.
Some people from the Southeast are threatening that if the Igbo did not get the presidency in 2023 they will cease to be Nigerians?
(Cuts in) I don’t want to get involved in that discussion now. You can’t say you will leave Nigeria when the process of leaving is clear to you. The person who is the president is on oath to keep the country one and he has now collected all the means of violence, all organs of violence are under him, what do you have to strike out on that? The situation now is not the situation in 1967, the position of Ndigbo today is not the position of Ndigbo in 1967, we were much more aggrieved in 1966-67 than we are now. Now, the Igbo in All Progressives Congress (APC) who see nothing wrong with the way APC and their government are manipulating the country, no matter what you shout they use black cloth and tie their eyes, they see nothing wrong. Even this latest blatant COVID-19 issue where they brought money, national funds and are giving only to their people the Igbo with blacklist mask see nothing, so who is going to lead the charge? Who is going to lead the charge without being accused of; that he thinks he knows more than every other person, that you open your mouth too wide, these are negative stances.
What do you foresee in the way we are going?
I don’t see what we are going to means. There is danger ahead. A group of people, a tribe in Nigeria, the Fulani tribe is marching on alone, they have gained everything in the country and if Fulani means Nigeria fine but the rest of Nigeria is not marching and Ndigbo are basically not marching to anywhere. Let God save us, finish. The country is ill-prepared for what has hit us, the awareness level is very low, medical equipment very scanty, medical health personnel kneeling on the ground, lack of leadership etc, everything is negative for us and the people that we are looking forward to giving us help are now also under peril. The West, organisations like Caritas, WHO etc, their areas are equally devastated, so I don’t know where we are looking forward to again for the help and the world is suspecting China.
Some Christians are saying that what is happening is perhaps a sign of the end time?
I am not involved in such far-seeing.
What are the challenges that have been brought to the fore?
People who are holding public offices should please do their best to have the public more in mind than their persons. The amount of money we have made from oil in the past nearly 50 years could have provided us with quality healthcare, a good education system etc, and our broadcast outfit is lacking, there is no awareness. Can you imagine if this thing (COVID-19) enters any urban slum? Belinda Gate said she is sorry, she is seeing dead bodies in Africa everywhere and people are vilifying her, but you don’t know what she knows. The statement is very weighty given the person who made it, but you don’t know what she knows. They are now accusing China of G5 and all that, but I also know that the US knows about G5 they were all pursuing the same project, maybe China ran faster, its economic, but WHO says that G5 has nothing to do with the Coronavirus and I believe them, G5 is an economic contest. And what should we do? Everybody should just obey the rules as put out by both the Federal Government and the state governments and also listen to NCDC that is those rules: handwashing with soap up to the elbow, minimum of 25 times a day, avoid close contact (social distancing) and stay home, avoid crowds, then leave the rest to God whatever He decides.